Remembering … Cecil Travis: former All-Star shortstop hit .314 during a 12-year big league career - Biography Baseball Digest, May, 2003 by Todd Newville
FORMER MAJOR LEAGUER CECIL Travis just might be the best player never to receive a single vote for enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.
He rapped out five hits in his major league debut in 1933. Then, he proceeded to hit .314 over a 12-year career. Travis was selected to three All-Star teams and finished second to Ted Williams for the American League batting title in 1941.
Of the 22 shortstops now in the Hall of Fame, only Honus Wagner (.327) and Arky Vaughan (.318) had a higher lifetime batting average than Travis. After serving his country for three years in World War II, he returned to baseball only to find out that his skills at the plate had eroded.
No longer able to help his beloved Washington Senators, Travis bowed out gracefully--and has never questioned his lack of having a plaque in Cooperstown. A humble and dignified Southerner from Riverdale, Georgia, Travis only says baseball treated him well.
"I have a lot of great memories," said the 89-year-old Travis, who proved to be a great diplomat for the game and a staunch defender for his country during his younger days.
Travis filled in nicely for injured third baseman Ossie Bluege in his first major league game on May 16, 1933. In a contest against the Cleveland Indians, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Travis rapped out a record five hits (all singles) in his major league debut as the Senators won a thrilling 12-inning contest 11-10.
Since 1900, no other major leaguer in history has had such an auspicious beginning as Travis, who was just 19 years old when he stepped up to the plate for his very first taste of major league pitching. The only other player with five hits in his first major league game was Fred Clarke of Louisville, who had four singles and a triple in his debut on June 30, 1894.
Travis still remembers his debut in a Washington uniform pretty well.
"My first game was a big thrill," said Travis, who split time between shortstop and third base throughout his 12-year major league career. "We were playing Cleveland and it was a big scoring game. We beat them but there was a lot of hitting on both sides in that ballgame. I don't remember it going 12 innings but I sure remember it was a big score."
The youngest of 10 children, Travis was raised on a 200-acre cattle farm just south of Atlanta. In high school, Travis played with a semi-professional club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and attended a baseball school in Atlanta operated by retired major league shortstop Kid Elberfeld.
Elberfeld (known as "The Tabasco Kid" during his 14-year career with the Detroit Tigers and New York Highlanders) talked owner Joe Engel into signing Travis to a contract to play for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. Travis, who was 16 at the time, didn't disappoint.
He hit .429 in 13 games for the Lookouts in 1931. The next year, he hit .356 as the third baseman for Chattanooga with 203 hits, 88 runs batted in, 88 runs scored, and a league-leading 17 triples.
Bluege returned to the Washington lineup shortly after Travis' five-hit major league debut. During his brief time with the Senators in '33, Travis hit .302 in 18 games. He spent the rest of the season in Chattanooga, where he continued to excel at the plate with a .352 average, 185 hits and 74 RBI.
In 1934, Travis was in the majors for good. His first full year with the Senators resulted in a .319 average in 109 games at third for Washington. Travis wouldn't fall below the .300 mark again until 1939, when he hit .292 in 130 games at shortstop for the Senators (he had the flu much of the season.)
Joe Cronin played for and managed the Senators in 1933 and '34, leading Washington to the American League pennant with a record of 99-53 in '33 before losing to the New York Giants in the World Series. Cronin, a .301 lifetime hitter, was the player/manager for the Boston Red Sox by 1935 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.
Travis' second manager, Bucky Harris, took over the Senators in 1935 for his second of three stints as Washington skipper. During Harris' first tenure as Washington manager, he led the Senators to their first (and only) world title with a thrilling seven-game triumph against the Giants in 1924. He won a total of 2,157 games as a big league field general--fourth on the all-time list. Travis admired both Cronin and Harris equally.
"It was really something to play for Joe Cronin and Bucky Harris," Travis said. "As a kid, you read about these people when they played and then you get to play against them and the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others. I played against Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove. It was interesting."
Grove, a 300-game winner, and Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians (who won 266 games) were two of the best pitchers Travis ever faced. He also mentioned Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing of the New York Yankees when discussing the game's best pitchers of the time.
"When I was playing, Feller was mighty tough," Travis said. "Grove was finishing up but was still plenty good. Gomez and Ruffing and all those fellows were tough on everybody--not just me."